Music of the Week — June 3, 2007
In Dreams Begin Irresponsibilities

Sunday Night Journal — June 3, 2007

Movie Roundup

I’ve been meaning to do another one of these for a while. The films are listed in the order in which I saw them, or at least in which Netflix sent them.

Blow-up: I’ve somehow gotten the impression that this movie is no longer regarded as highly as it once was. Well, if that’s true, I don’t care; I think it’s a masterpiece, and phooey to those who disagree. It made a huge impression on me when I first saw it, when it was new and I was a college freshman, but I didn’t really know why. I suppose it was a matter of mood and atmosphere more than anything else. Now I think I understand it, and I think it comes closer to capturing an essential aspect of the cultural upheaval of the ‘60s than pretty much any other work of art I know of. I’m ready to see it again.

L’Avventura: Going straight from Blow-up to this earlier classic by Antonioni was interesting; the connection in technique is plain. According to the critical commentary on the DVD, the title refers to the adventure of self-discovery, or something. Whatever. If you want to call it a nearly plotless portrait of some unappealing rich people, with unavoidable implications about The Emptiness of Modern Life and The Difficulty of Really Communicating With Another Person, that’s ok with me. It’s beautiful and evocative. The camera can’t stay away from Monica Vitti’s strikingly soulful face, and the contrast between what one sees there and the lives these people lead is unforgettable, even if I’m unconvinced that the philosophical depth claimed for the film is really there. I’m ready to see it again, too. I haven’t yet completed the putative trilogy of L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’eclisse.

The Long Goodbye: 1973, directed by Robert Altman, Elliot Gould as Marlowe. Forgettable, apparently, as I’m already hazy about it and it was just this past February that I saw it. I think Robert Altman is overrated. Can’t point to anything in particular wrong with it but it just didn’t really work for me. Maybe it’s impossible to move Chandler into any milieu but 1930-1950 (approximately) Los Angeles.

In A Lonely Place: A 1950 Bogart noir, sort of—more of a character study than a crime drama. Highly regarded, I gather, and maybe I should give it another chance, but I was underwhelmed.

Junebug: Dysfunctional family piece, for which my appetite is very limited. Young man who moved away from redneck Carolina to be somebody in the big city returns with sophisticated art-dealer wife, many conflicts occur. Very well done but not really my cup of tea.

Monsieur Ibrahim: Sentimental story about a semi-abandoned Parisian boy taken under the wing of a kindly Muslim shopkeeper. Philosophically unconvincing—Ibrahim’s Islam would not be at all out of place on Oprah—but engaging. You can’t help liking the boy and Ibrahim (played by Omar Sharif). Almost worth seeing for the whirling Dervishes, if you’ve never seen them.

Central Station: Brazilian, also an abandoned-child story, and more convincing than Ibrahim. The adult in this case is a hard-nosed middle-aged single woman who really doesn’t want to bother. I notice that Netflix quotes reviewers’ praise of the actress, Fernanda Montenegro, who plays the woman, and rightly: she is what I mainly recall. Not a truly great film, but worthwhile.

The Dark Corner: More noir, about a private eye with a past being framed for murder, and I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t like noir as much as I thought I did. It wasn’t bad but I wasn’t enthused, either. Interesting to see Lucille Ball in an early non-comedy role.

Intimate Stories: Yes, I know, the title sounds like some kind of quasi-porn, and although I don’t know Spanish I suspect that whoever translated Historias Minimas this way probably made a mistake. It is indeed a small movie about small people and small events, but it’s thoroughly beautiful, not least in the straightforwardly visual sense. The slight but well-constructed plot revolves around the partly interlocking journeys of several small-town or rural people to the big city. Highly recommended.

Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring: I have had these recommended to me many times over the years, but have, to be honest, avoided what seemed an obligation, like that of reading a classic that doesn’t really interest you. From the descriptions I expected them to be long, ponderous, and sad. The first and last are accurate; the second is not. If you haven’t seen them, I strongly suggest you treat them as a unit. They’re probably too much for one viewing—they would be for me—but watch them on consecutive nights if you can, as they are really one story. And together they comprise a masterpiece. The first seemed to be meeting my expectation of a mildly unpleasant experience, as we watch the deliberate destruction of a good man. It’s excruciating, and I would just as soon have stopped there. But Manon turns the story from a portrait of brute suffering into a genuine tragedy, classical in its lines, and profound; a classic indeed. I suspect most people who read this blog have seen it, but if you haven’t, make a note: this is one you must see.

I see I still have another eight or ten movies to go, so I think I’ll split this up. More next week.



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